Imagined worlds: the role of dreams, space and the supernatural in the evolution of Victorian fantasy
thesisposted on 2022-03-28, 01:51 authored by Kirstin Ann Mills
This thesis examines the central role played by the concept of space in the development of Victorian fantasy throughout the nineteenth century. This concept of space had three facets - the spatial imagination, hyperspace, and other worlds - and connected with ideas about the mind and dreaming that were also prominent throughout this period. In particular, the literary deployment of the concept of hyperspace - a space beyond the natural world - was fundamental to the development of fantasy genres. Using historicised literary analysis, this study shows that this concept of hyperspace was a fundamental and sustained aspect of the British imagination from the Gothic period to the late Victorian era, when it was theorized for the first time. This new perspective on space also permits a challenge to modern critical constructions of how dream worlds were conceptualized. It does so by focusing on a large group of British authors who wrote on dreams, space and the supernatural, including Walpole, Coleridge, De Quincey, Kingsley, MacDonald and Morris. Victorian enquiries into the nature of dreams, the mind and the supernatural can be seen as investigations into alternative spaces of existence: realms and worlds beyond those of traditional three-dimensional physical experience. These investigations into the nature of hyperspace (what it contained, how it interacted with the three-dimensional human world and how humans could perceive and understand it) were undertaken across a vast cross-section of Victorian society right to the end of the century. It is this energetic hunt for evidence of spaces beyond our traditional three dimensions that, I suggest, contributed to the development of the fantasy genre, where literature of the supernatural increasingly became seen as an appropriate vehicle through which to explore the possibilities and conditions of other worlds. The role of these investigations into space in effecting the evolution of the fantasy genre, and in turn, the role of fantastic literature in driving the supernatural and spatial investigations, is the focus of this study. This development, I argue, occurred along a trajectory from the late eighteenth-century Gothic literature of the fantastic to the later nineteenth-century novels that were situated in 'secondary worlds' in which the supernatural existed as natural phenomena and in which occur the first examples of the modern fantasy genre.